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January 3, 2018

Hathaway redevelopment key part of Waterville resurgence

Photo / Fred J. Field Sherrie McIntire is a sales associate at Hathaway Mill Antiques in the Hathaway Creative Center in Waterville. "For a shop that's just starting out, this business is doing really well,” she said.

The new owners of the Hathaway Creative Center in Waterville want to make one thing clear — they’re not just jumping on the hot Waterville development bandwagon.

New York-based North River Co., which bought the building last February for $20.15 million, has a solid Maine development history — including buying the Portland Square complex for $66 million in 2015, considered at the time the city’s biggest real estate transaction.

“We’re not just riding the wave,” said Christopher Pachios, a managing partner of North River. “We’re in it for the long haul.”

Pachios, as well as Anthony Gatti and Dan Jacques of North River affiliate Waterfront Maine, are all Maine natives and excited about the possibilities in Waterville. The other member of the Hathaway group is Chris Flagg.

North River’s purchase of the 236,000-square-foot former mill building is the latest deal in a development surge in the Kennebec River city of 16,000 that was sparked when Colby College began buying downtown buildings three years ago. 

History, water and a college town

Photo / Fred J. Field
Waterville's historic Hathaway Creative Center was sold in February 2017 for $20 million in a deal brokered by CBRE | The Boulos Co. Christopher Pachios, managing partner for the new ownership group, North River Co., says it's in it “for the long haul.”

Former Hathaway Creative Center primary owner Paul Boghossian, who also owns two smaller buildings at the complex on Water Street, redeveloped the 137-year-old former shirt factory over the past decade. When North River bought it, the 67 high-end apartments were full and the commercial space in the building was more than 80% occupied.

Gatti said the fact that Waterville is up and coming was part of the reason the building was appealing, but the fact that Boghossian had done so much work was also part of the appeal.

Another selling point is that it’s similar in many ways to Fort Andross in Brunswick, which Coleman Burke, founder of Waterfront Maine, bought in 1986. At the time, the 495,000-square-foot mill on the Androscoggin River was mostly vacant and in disrepair. Now it has 80 businesses, running the gamut from art studios to a farmers market to restaurants.

Gatti, who has run the day to day operations at Fort Andross for 25 years, said both former mill buildings “mix history with water in a college town.”

The difference is that Fort Andross was a start-from-scratch project and development was slow. “One office, one art studio at a time.”

At the Hathaway Creative Center, much of that work has been done by former owner Boghossian.

Gatti already knew Boghossian when the building became available in August 2016. Gatti said the buyers liked the potential they saw in the mostly vacant first floor, and while they’d never done a building with a residential element, the fact the apartments were all occupied — there’s a waiting list — made that not a problem.

Same beehive

Photo / Fred J. Field
Hathaway Mill Antique is an anchor at the Hathaway Creative Center in Waterville.

The vision for the Hathaway Center is the “same beehive” that Fort Andross has become, and Gatti says it’s fortunate that much of it was already up and running.

Tenants already in the building when it was bought included MaineGeneral and publisher Cengage Learning, among others.

The building is now 93% occupied, and new first-floor tenants include a microbrewery slated to open this month, a crossfit center and a jujitsu school.

Gatti also brought in an antiques mall, Hathaway Mill Antiques, similar to Cabot Mill Antiques in Fort Andross. The antiques mill brings in a lot of foot traffic, he said.

There is still a 5,500-square foot space, as well as some smaller ones, available. Gatti said he’d love to see some artists take some of the space.

A big wish, though, is a “food provider,” possibly similar to The Frontier in Fort Andross. “We’d like to create that same vibe.”

He said they’re looking for the right fit, something that complements the other users in the space. “We’d like it to work for the existing tenants,” he said.

The Waterville effect

Gatti said that, aside from existing tenants, other elements that were already part of the Hathaway Creative Center have also helped the developers.

For instance the Sukeforth family’s Festival of Trees, an event held in November, brought in thousands. “They literally put us on the map,” he said.

Gatti and Pachios said Colby College’s development efforts isn’t the only thing that made the building appealing to the developers, but it did play a part.

“They’re putting out there that they’re willing to help” the city grow, Gatti said.

Pachios added that the direct effects of Colby’s contribution, as well as the Alfond Foundation and others is “very, very meaningful” in a city the size of Waterville.

One effect, he said, is the large percentage of development now coming from the private sector.

He said the company wouldn’t discount other opportunities in the area. “It may not be a $22 million mill,” he said. “But we like the market.”

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